Monthly Archives: October 2006

OpenLearn – the way of the future?

The Open University in the UK has recently launched its OpenLearn website, which makes ‘educational resources freely available on the internet, with state of the art learning support and collaboration tools to connect learners and educators.’

They already have quite a range of modules available across a range of discipline areas, using Moodle as their LMS.

What may also be of interest to some is the associated LabSpace site, established to share and reuse educational resources. All the content from OpenLearn can be downloaded, adapted, and used and adapted versions uploaded to the site.

Both sites are worth a look. I’ve been experimenting with Moodle a little lately, and it’s interesting to see it in action in a major site. It’s also interesting to have a look at the approach they’ve taken to the learning design in the various modules – the ones I’ve glanced at are more structured and step-by-step than we normally do here, but that’s probably appropriate for the open access nature of the project.

Developments like this and MIT’s OpenCourseWare , plus other projects such as Google Scholar and the trends to make academic journals freely accessible, do challenge us to consider what the future of higher education is – if the learning content is freely available, why should students enrol in our institutions, for an expensive three-year or more degree? What is it that we will be giving them? If we’re going to be about more than just assessment and awarding formal qualifications, how do we make the learning process more engaging and rewarding for our students?
What are the implications for our future?

Snippets

The following are a few snippets from posts around the blogosphere that I’ve noted in the past few weeks. Each one deserves a thoughtful blog post, but for now I’ll scatter them here for your interest.
The wonderfully reflective Barbara Ganley discussing visual literacy:

As students become more comfortable thinking visually, and thinking critically about the visual, they begin to see how stepping away from language for a moment to think about their ideas in image can help the preciseness of their diction, the development of their points, and the depth of their ideas.

A particularly effective and rewarding exercise easily adaptable to any grade level is to have students post stories-without-words on their blogs. We are, after all, naturally drawn to stories from the moment we understand language. Creating compelling narratives with clear beginnings, middles and endings solely with images teaches visual literacy skills while revealing the arc of a narrative, transitions, the structure of an argument, and the importance of the carefully chosen word.

And expanding the visual to virtual worlds, Angela Thomas has reports, images and podcasts from the NMC’s 12 day symposium on the Impact of Digital Media – held in the VR environment at Second Life. (Which I’d love to explore further, but my current computer doesn’t have an adequate graphics cards apparently.)

On the authority of sources

David Warlick commenting on David Weinberger’s keynote at the SETT conference in Glasgow:

His address was pretty much the same ideas that he shared at NECC a couple of years ago, but about 2/3 into the presentation he pulled up Wikipedia. Again nothing new. He flashed through a number of the warnings that appear on many Wikipedia articles: the neutrality of this article is disputed, factual accuracy is disputed, this article contradicts another article, etc.

Then Weinberger asked…

Why is it that you will never ever see these warnings in authoritative sources. You will never see it in Britannica. You will never see it in the New York Times. And you have to wonder why. Is it because they’re never wrong? No!

He described the New York times reporting prior the the U.S. invasion of Iraq, that they were reporting information that was wrong — without warning.

Weinberger then asks,

Why can’t they acknowledge their weaknesses…the only and reluctant answer I can come to is that they are more interested in protecting their own authority than helping us to the truth.

I sat back in my chair, thunder-struck, “Wow!”

Wow, indeed. When you consider that the discussion pages behind each entry on Wikipedia usually outline many of the issues and diverse perspectives on entry topics, in addition to the clear statements when articles are in dispute, it’s really quite a good resource.

Email is for us old folk…

Is e-mail only for the old? That’s the contention of a string of articles published in the last four months, the most recent appearing today in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The Chronicle says that in a study last year, “teenagers preferred new technology, like instant messaging or text messaging, for talking to friends and use e-mail to communicate with ‘old people.'” The Mercury News says, “For those of you who have just figured out how to zap spam or manage your inbox, prepare for the bad news: E-mail is, like, so yesterday.” And then there’s USA Today, which makes the claim that “E-mail is so last millennium.”

ETC@BMC commented further on this:

Our colleges have come to view email as our primary way of communicating with students but it’s not 100% effective. Another symposium attendee shared that after they released a new webmail service they discovered that within a day over 100 students had set filters to send all email from the help desk to the trash automatically. And we all struggle with getting our students to set up the forward to the email address they really check.

It seems to me the lesson in all of this is not whether or when email is going to become obsolete. The first lesson is the different attitude that young adults have to email and other communication methods. They don’t want to hear from you unless you are relevant to them. They view email as a way of receiving unwanted communications and are less patient in sorting through it than those of us who view it as a huge improvement over waiting a week for a letter or calling back endlessly because there weren’t answering machines.

(Oh, dear, I remember those days… before answering machines, before email, even before faxes…)

See Bron’s brain explode…

It’s been quiet in here again. That’s because it’s currently very noisy inside my head. As well as my full-time, busy job, I’m currently:

All of the above need to be done by mid-November. And did I mention work is busy, as well?

I haven’t yet responded to Jim’s comments about methodology and philosophy in course structures, although I intend to, as soon as have a brain cell or three to spare 🙂
I’ve also noted a few interesting things over the past week but haven’t had the time to work them into a coherent  blog post, so in my next post I’ll just put a few snippets for consideration.

Academic blog links

I mentioned yesterday that it can be a challenge for those who aren’t highly web-confident to find blogs in their areas of interest.

I Googled ‘academic blogs’ and came up with some useful links:

Crooked Timber’s extensive list of academic blogs, grouped under broad discipline areas.

BlogScholar.com also has a good list – you’ll find discipline links on the right-hand side, part-way down the page (it’s not especially obvious.)

Rhetorica’s Professors Who Blog link is no longer maintained as at July this year, but has a fairly long list of blogs, albeit with limited information about them.

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s site also has links to academic blogs, each with a short description of the blog.

And then I found that there’s a (relatively new?) Academic Blog Portal – a wiki of academic blogs that you can add your own to. So, yes, somebody else has already done what I was thinking of 🙂

(And does anyone else think it amusing that the spell-checker in WordPress – a blogging software – does not recognise the words ‘blog’, ‘blogs’ or ‘wiki’?)

Should All Learning Professionals Be Blogging?

Over at the Learning Circuits Blog their ‘Big Question’ for the month is ‘Should all learning professionals be blogging?’ The question has generated a range of varied responses from educators – the post has links to them.

I came across the question yesterday at Jim Belshaw’s blog, and posted a spur of the moment response:

…perhaps the question isn’t so much ‘should all learning professionals be blogging’ but rather ‘should all learning professionals be actively engaging with the current developments in their discipline?’ To which, in my mind, the answer is Yes.

The ‘How?’ question then leads naturally to blogging or similar activities – because the exciting, new and innovative developments in pretty much all a university’s discipline areas are being discussed, reported, analysed and further developed on the web, through online journals, news, blogs, wikis and so on. The web is the home to the current knowledge and ideas, and is much more up-to-date than most traditional print-based academic journals, where the time-frame from research to publication can be years.

Participating in those online communities is a true scholarly activity – contributing to the ‘unending conversation’ in our discipline areas, debating ideas, furthering knowledge and understanding, and sharing that with the wider community.

Yes, it’s a time commitment, but it’s part of our pursuit of knowledge in our respective discipline areas – and it’s also a timesaver in some ways, with easy access to the leading thinkers and resources, the opportunity to share and seek feedback on ideas and drafts of papers, and so on.

On reflection, I haven’t changed my view much. I don’t necessarily think that all learning professionals/academics should be actively blogging – blogging is not for everyone, and it takes a while to develop one’s blogging ‘voice’ – but, as expressed in my previous post, I do think that we need to be very aware of, and participating in, the current developments in our respective fields. And, while I’m ready to be corrected, I can’t really think of any discipline where what is happening on the web is irrelevant.

Blogging is one way – and can be an excellent way – of actively participating in one’s discipline, and contributing to the application of ideas and knowledge in the wider community. Blogging goes further than traditional email discussion lists, conferences, academic papers, and other standard academic means of communication. So, yes, I think academics should be aware of what blogging is, reading the relevant thinkers in their fields, and at least actively considering whether blogging is an appropriate form of participation for them.

However, for those who are less confident navigating their way around the web, sometimes finding relevant blog communities can be a bit of a challenge. To assist the academic staff I work with, I’m working on putting together a wiki resource with links to blogs across a range of discipline areas. Although if anyone knows of a similar resource already existing, please let me know!

QUT and AOIR conferences

I spent last week in Brisbane, attending two conferences – QUT’s Online Learning and Teaching conference on Mobile technologies in teaching, and the Association of Internet Researchers international conference, Internet Convergences.

My brain is still trying to recover 😉

The AoIR one in particular gave me vast quantities of food for thought, and I’m still processing all the various ideas, discussions, implications. With 6 sessions going at a time, each with multiple papers, for three days, there was A LOT discussed.

One thing that’s standing out for me, though, is how far behind university education is in general in grappling with the changes that the networked, information-rich world has already brought to the ways in which people interact with information and build their knowledge and learning.

I’m not just referring here to the use of web technology and social software in teaching. I’m referring to the impact of this networked world on the fundamental ways in which we practice and understand our disciplines, the ways in which we undertake, publish and disseminate our research, the ways in which we teach our students about our disciplines, and the ways in which our disciplines and foci of study are themselves changing.

Last week’s conference reinforced my long-held opinion that, rather than leave epistemology and methodology to fourth year or post-graduate levels as we have traditionally done in most discipline areas, we need now to shift that right up front, explicitly focusing our first year units around these issues. Our students have access to so much information at the click of a button that, rather than feed them more ‘content’, our prime goal should be educate them in the epistemological bases of our disciplines – how we build knowledge, how we explore theories, how evidence is sought and assessed, and so on.

These are the skills that our students need for the even-more networked future. They need to be able to work effectively and professionally in this world in which more information that you could ever have dreamed about a few years ago is available instantly. They need not just information literacy and network literacy but explicit epistemological literacy in order to find their way through and make meaning of millions of terabytes of data, to build relevant knowledge, to negotiate significant choices and actions based on that knowledge with their equally-networked colleagues, peers, clients, constituents, bosses etc.

These literacies are not simple skills. To be brutally honest, they are certainly not skills that are developed by reading a range of 10 or 20 or 30 academic journal articles and writing a 2,000 word essay that only a lecturer or tutor ever sees. Or by setting up a standard experiment and writing a report. Or by cramming for two days for a multiple-choice exam.

We can no longer get by with an approach that might have educated people for the 1980s, but certainly does not educate them for 2010 and beyond. I believe that approach is doing a massive disservice to our students.

At all levels of higher education – policy and government frameworks and funding; institutional policy, structures and cultures; and individual academic level – we need to grapple with the challenge to make our educational processes relevant, to truly educate students in how their respective disciplines and professions will be enacted and experienced in the years to come.

And yes, it’s a darn big challenge.